If your student is considering taking a gap year, you should also read our post on deferring enrollment.
The majority of students move smoothly from high school to college. College is the normal “next step” in the educational process. For some students, however, that “next step” just doesn’t seem quite right, at least not just now. It’s not that they don’t want to go to college, it is just that they may feel the need to do something before entering college. For these students, a gap year may be the answer.
A gap year, sometimes called a year out, or year off, or bridging year, is a transition year, usually between high school and college, when the student takes time to do something else. Although it is still the exception in the United States for students to take a gap year, it is a growing trend. Some programs which target gap year students are seeing as much as 15-20% growth. The National Association for College Admission Counseling has suggested that the practice of taking a gap year is on the rise.
A gap year isn’t for every student. Any student who is considering a gap year should give careful thought to her reasons. A gap year is not intended as a method for procrastinating and putting college off just for the sake of it, but rather for using the year actively for some purpose. Some students want to take a year to pursue a dream, to travel abroad, to volunteer or do community service, to work, to explore interests, passions, or careers, or just to pause before forging ahead. One important key is for your student to think about her motivations and clarify her goals.
Once your college student has decided to take a gap year, and has clarified her goals, she will need to decide whether to complete the college admissions process first and ask to defer enrollment, or to apply to colleges at the end of the year. Your student may choose to apply after the year off because she may want to include her experiences as part of her application package. However, for many students, applying, getting admitted and then requesting to defer enrollment may make more sense. (We’ve written an earlier post about the advantages of deferring enrollment.) Close consultation with your student’s chosen college may be extremely helpful in making this decision.
Your student will then need to consider what he will do with his year off. Hopefully, he will use it wisely. If costs are a factor, your student may need to spend part of the year working in order to pay for a partial year experience. He may need to consider living at home to reduce costs. He may need to explore the options for travel or service programs. There are now several gap year fairs (like college fairs) that take place, or there may be booths at college fairs regarding year out programs. There are consultants who keep up with available programs. Consultants have lots of information about the quality of programs as well as their availability, but the services of a consultant may be costly.
As a parent, you may worry about your student taking a year off before college. It may even be a new concept to you. You may worry about the student losing motivation. It is true that some students may take the year and then decide not to return to college. However, the number of students who do this is relatively small. Most students return to school after their year with renewed vigor, motivation and focus. They may gain a sense of purpose and maturity.
If your student suggests the idea of taking a break, be open to the discussion. Let him explain to you why he wants, or needs, the break. Encourage him to discuss the option with his college of choice. Encourage him to have a plan and to articulate his goals before he begins. Discuss finances, if that is an issue, and have a plan for how the year will be subsidized. This may be a wonderful opportunity, not only for your student to explore the world, but for you to get to know him, as an adult, even better.